Legendary Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard Shares The Real Reason He Chose The Sport - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Legendary Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard Shares The Real Reason He Chose The Sport

And the reason he decided to turn pro at an early age.

Sugar Ray Leonard is an Olympic gold medalist and one of the only boxers to win world titles in five different weight classes. An iconic athlete of the late 1970s and ‘80s, he is considered one of the best boxers of all time.

Speaking on the Apple Fitness+ Time to Walk series, the athlete has explained what really got him into the sport, and why he stuck around.

“When I won the Olympic gold medal in Montreal, 1976, I had no thoughts whatsoever to turn professional as a boxer because I’ve heard some horrible stories about boxing champions making some money and, at the end of the day, they had nothing. Everything was gone. And I didn’t want that to happen to me. So my thoughts was to attend University of Maryland because I had a scholarship, further my education, get a great job, and go from there,” he explains on the walk. “My father was an incredible man, wasn’t well-educated, but he worked so hard. He worked crazy hours, maybe 50, 60 hours a week. He was one of the nicest men in the world and almost to his fault because when he was ill, he didn’t talk about it. I didn’t know that my father was as sick as he was because he never complained. He didn’t say that he was feeling bad because he had spinal meningitis and tuberculosis.”

After the Olympics in 1976 his father’s health really deteriorated. He lost an enormous amount of weight, and money started to become a huge issue.

“That’s when I asked my, my mentor, “How can I make fast money?” Yeah, that’s the exact words I used, “How can I make fast money? Be an actor, be a this, or be a that?” He said, “Be a professional fighter. That’s the quickest way.” And I didn’t think twice about it. The only reason I turned pro was to help my mom and dad out,” says Leonard.

“It all happened so quickly. I turned pro in 19-, what, ’77. I became world champion in 1979. I was making money, and because I was doing so well financially in such a short period of time, that’s why I felt that it was so right to give them what they’d dreamed about for so many years. My parents never owned a home. My parents did the best they could with what they had. And that’s why I felt that it was so right to give them their first home, I mean, even before me.”

The now 65-year-old says that even though he became a boxing champion, he wasn’t athletically inclined. At all.

“My brothers were, my brother Roger and Kenny. And the reason I started boxing was because my older brother, Roger, took me to the gym. And I remember like it was yesterday, I put those gloves on, and it was like I found boxing, boxing found me, and we found each other. And again, I was not athletic. I wasn’t the guy who played basketball, football, base- Boxing was that sport.”

“A reporter many years ago, he asked me, “What do you want to be? What do you want to become?” And he was waiting for me to say, “A boxing champion.” I say, “I want to become special.” Don’t know why I said that at that time, but I said that.

“I had to believe in myself because, if I don’t, no one else will. You’ve got to fight for what you want. Now, I’m not saying physically, but fight for what you want.”

You can listen to the full episode here.

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the former Digital Editor at Men's Health Australia, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has written for Women's Health, esquire, GQ and Vogue magazine.

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